Oh god not another hill....
The Inca trail kicked off for us at 5am when we got picked up from our hotel and headed off to Ollantaytambo where we stopped for breakfast and last minute supplies and finally down the road to the official starting point. Our guide was great and had our group of 7 (and our 9 porters) ready to go in no time. After the inevitable waiting around for the official checks we were off.
The first day was pretty easy as a whole, we only hiked for around 5 hours, with no particularly steep sections. Overall, it was pretty fun, we had a really nice group of 3 French Canadians, a french guy, and another Aussie. It started drizzling in the last half hour of so of our little hike, which turned out to be another easy precursor to what we about to do over the next 4 days. We arrived to set up tents and popcorn and hot chocolate (we were already liking this a lot more than the W trail). We had a tasty dinner and got to know each other a little better then turned in for an early night.
Day 2, had us up at 5:30am and packed and ready for breakfast by 6am. That said, being woken up nicely with a cup of tea, and asked very kindly to be ready for a lovely cooked breakfast in half an hour, makes 5:30am a much more civilized time to get up. This was the tough day, we had to get over the ¨Dead woman´s pass¨4200m above sea level and back it up by going over the next highest pass on the trail at 3600m above sea level. The day started out a little drizzly but it cleared up and we had pretty good weather to tackle the Dead Woman´s Pass. Matt flew up the mountain, but I was struggling. I had to stop every 20m or so to catch my breath, I´ve officially decided I'm not cut out for altitude. Matt waited for me though and we made it to the top together. It was an amazing sense of achievement, everyone clapped as you made it to the top and our guide popped a bottle of champagne for us to share while we all hugged it out. It was surprisingly emotional and really elating to look out over the valley and realise how high we'd just climbed. But we were yet to make it, we still had to head down into the next valley and then over the next pass. Unfortunately, it started raining in earnest just as we started our second climb of the day and we all just put our heads down and went at our own pace to get through.
Thankfully the rain stopped again before we reached camp and we did our best to dry out (which turned out to be impossible for the rest of the hike) and enjoyed being pampered by our cook and porters (who I should add did everything we just did, faster, and with 20-25 kilos on their backs, they're just amazing).
Day three was positively civilized. We were woken up at around 6am (I think) and after breakfast finally did our proper introductions to the porters (several who were over 50 and a couple who were just starting out and were only 18). We'd been stopping at various Inca sites along the trail and day three's were the best of the lot. Unfortunately, it decided to rain quite heavily at different points, which meant we didn't spend as much time checking out some of the ruins as we might otherwise have liked, but overall it was pretty cool. We made camp by about 3pm and then after a rest headed out to check out Winay Wayna, with beautiful terraces descending into the valley and some of the best preserved structures we'd seen yet.
Day 4 is all about Machu Picchu. We woke up at 3:30am (not even tea makes that time civilized) and joined our place in the queue to wait for the rangers to open the gates. That's right you can't actually get onto the final seciton of the trail until 5am, so why drag us out of bed so early? Good question. Apparently it's so the porter's can get the 5:30am train back down to Ollantaytambo. Though I still can't figure out why the train has to be so early. Anyway, after sitting in the cold and dark for over an hour we were finally let through and formed part of the approx 300 people long single file line snaking its way up to the sungate. It started to lighten up as it got closer to 6am and was properly morning by the time we made our way up the final (very steep) steps to the sun gate to see.... white. The whole area was covered in clouds and we couldn't see another further than a few hundred metres. We weren't dishearented though, because we would get a better view of Machu Picchu as we got down a bit closer. I was crushed to find that the view didn't improve as we made our way down, even when we made it down to Machu Picchu clouds kept getting in the way of any photos. Matt picked me back up again, and after a guided tour of Machu Picchu we made the hike back up the hill to get the photos we couldn't get that morning. We were completely buggered though so we didn't go all the way back up to the sun gate, just far enough to get photos like these...
We made our way down to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then wiled away the afternoon soaking in the hotsprings, which felt incredibly after 4 days hiking with no showers. We met back up with our little group for a final farewell drink before hopping the train back to Ollantaytambo and then our minibus back to Cusco. We arrived back around 10:30am and were never so grateful to slide into bed.